Sunday, May 28, 2017

Help Who? What? Where? When? Why?



And you thought doing good, being a helping person, was simple, right? But these days I don't think so. There are so many people, causes, places that need help. And with the information age we see and hear of suffering everywhere. So how do you choose?

We can't do everything, can't fix the world, abolish all suffering. Obviously. So, that might make you think there is no point in helping anyone, especially strangers and people we'll never see or meet.
But for many of us, we have that urge to help beyond our own circle of friends and family.

We are given so many opportunities to help relieve the suffering in the wold that it can be overwhelming. Let's consider the "who".

Who 
Personally, I find my heart pulled in some directions more strongly than in others. (And following your heart is a good way to choose.) I listen to my heart and hope I make the best choices. I look for people who are oppressed and are often ignored or marginalized. I send needed items to people  on the Rose But Indian Reservation. And I do what I can to support refugees in our country, especially locally.

Where
Some people think it is better to help people they can meet rather than those far away. But what moral difference does it make if the starving child is in front of us or far away? So the "where" is a matter of personal preference. I like to consider what resources are available where they are so I can evaluate how much difference my help might make.

On the reservation, money is very tight. There are no good jobs and the elderly, especially, live in deep poverty. So the help I give there provides items they badly need.

In our country, large communities especially, there are agencies that help refugees. These agencies need volunteers. While the agencies have some funding, what is really needed are people who will help their clients get resettled. I'm hoping to become a volunteer at the Community Refugee and Immigration Services center here in Columbus. I can do things like assisting with their English classes, driving them to appointments, mentoring, and making them feel welcome in what is often an unfriendly environment.

What
So the "what" of you helping can be anything from making money donations to volunteering, or simply sharing information about the need and encouraging others to help. Your help might be "rescue" - helping a person out of a dire situation, someone right in front of you. You might help a homeless person get to a shelter, for instance. Or you might stop to help someone with a disabled car. "Rescue" is usually unplanned, spontaneous acts.

Another kind of helping can be categorized as "charity." Charity is more likely to be helping an unseen person or someone who is at a physical or emotional distance between you. You donate or raise money for a cause you believe in. You may join with others to support a cause. For instance, some of us met regularly to make little dresses for Africa. And sometimes I ask friends and family to help me make or buy hats and mittens for the children and elderly on the Indian Reservation.

And, of course, there is always the need for financial support for various causes. So donating or fund raising is another kind of charity work.

When
"When" is an interesting factor to consider. Most of us tend to relegate our helping to our spare time, a convenient time. "Rescue", of course, by nature  is spontaneous and often inconvenient. Sometimes we drive past the disabled car because we are in a hurry to get somewhere. We don't want to be inconvenienced.

Finding a time to be a helper takes some consideration. Since we probably don't aspire to the lable of "do-gooder", we need to balance our helping of others with our responsibilities to family, job, friends, and self-care. Yet we need to find a space in our very busy lives because helping is important to our well-being.

Why
That brings us to the "why" of helping. Why do we help others? Why do we contribute to charities, volunteer for unpaid work that benefits others? Why do we do acts of kindness? I'll bet you could get dozens of answers from dozens of different people.

  • When you give, you are likely to get back. Perhaps you won't get back the same thing you have given. But when people see you as generous they are likely to be generous to you.
  • When you help others you help yourself. You increase your self-respect and  personal satisfaction. It feels good.
  • Compassion is a human passion. We are born as caring creatures. Often that is not encouraged as we grow up and we can become uncaring. But most of us have some compassion, many have great compassion. It is because we are caring creatures.
  • Some feel it is our duty to help others. Some rules about helping and caring have been taught to us and we help out of a sense of duty. This is probably the least joyful reason for helping, however.
  • Psychologists tell us that there are neurological reasons: Altruism activates reward centers in the brain. Neurobiologists have found that when engaged in an altruistic act, the pleasure centers of the brain become active.
  • Helping those in need helps us feel less upset by observing others in distress.
  • The need reminds you of someone or something in your past and helping them helps resolve old feelings from that past situation. Perhaps you have been needy and know how that feels, so you do what you can to help the other person relieve their suffering.
  • Helping satisfies personal values or humanitarian concerns. For some people this can have a spiritual component.
  • Volunteering can help you gain a better understanding of other people, cultures or places.It satisfies your curiosity and desire to learn.
  • Volunteering can be a way to challenge yourself, meet new people and make new friends, or learn new skills that further your career.
And I'm sure there are other motivations. Some might have purely selfish reasons. For instance, someone might volunteer to work on a project with someone who could influence their future in some way. Or they might volunteer solely to have something to put on their resume!

But whatever the reasons, we are all helpers in some way. Why do you help?


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"Do-Gooder": A Pejorative Word?



When someone is labeled a "do-gooder" it is with a somewhat disdainful tone. Why is that? They are people who are doing good works, helping people, making the world a better place, right? So why the disdain?

I'm currently reading Strangers Drowing, Grappling with Imposible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help by Larissa MacFarquhar. I brought it home from the library because I suffer from that urge, an urge I'm all too often unable to do anything about because of my health or wealth [lack of both]. In it they explore attitudes about do-gooders.

They describe do-gooders as people who are compelled to help others, strangers, people they may never meet. They do this while sacrificing their well-being, their families, their own comfort and happiness. In fact, the authors say that do-gooders can be identified because they are never happy. They are too caught up in the suffering of others and their need to help.

Well, that IS a bit extreme. I guess I don't know anyone like that personally. I know a lot of people who do good things. But they don't give up everything in order to serve others. I know that there are religious folk who do that for spiritual reasons. But they usually feel fulfilled and joyful in their work. The authors exclude them from the term because they are not addicted to good works. Addiction does not bring fulfillment and joy!

"[God] didn't want you to be miserable - He wanted you to do good. . . it is better to be happy, because you did better work."  pg. 16
God wants us to be happy and God wants us to do good works. If you get no joy, no happiness from your good works you need to take a hard look at what you are doing and why you are doing it.

What good works are you doing? Share an experience that brought you joy in your good works.




Sunday, May 21, 2017

Got 20 Minutes? Get Happy!



You can get happy in only 20 minutes if you watch his video and do what it suggests. 
Want to try?

Watch.


What do you think?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

I'm Sorry. Be Happy.


One thing that keeps us from being truly happy is that there are people or experiences that have hurt us and we've not been able to forgive.

How can forgiveness of others help us to be truly happy? Check out this video to start on the road to forgiving. Do it for yourself.




Let it go. Be happy.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

What Would You Give for Your Well-Being?


What have you lost by giving? Money? Goods? Experiences? Your savings? Your time? Other resources? Are you suffering a deficit because of your generosity? 

So why is generosity a good thing? Why give if we lose? Doesn't seem very practical, does it?
Yet we give. And most of us want to be generous. It is a positive characteristic, to be a giver.

Generosity is a paradox. While it is true that we "lose" that which we give, in return for giving we receive! The Paradox of Generosity, Giving we receive, grasping we lose by Christian Smith & Hilary Davidson is written from their academic study of generosity. The book is quite readable, will all the technical research stuff in the back of the book. And it has interesting insights.

To measure well-being they looked at happiness, bodily health, purpose in living, avoidance of depression, and interest in personal growth. People without these are not flourishing. Their study looked at practices of generosity, not single generous acts, repeated behaviors that involve recurrent intention and attention. So, basically, a generous person is happier, healthier, lives purposefully, avoids depression, and ins interested in their personal growth.

Sounds like what we'd all like to be. The authors demonstrate in their research that generosity and well-being correlate significantly between the two. They present empirical evidence that American's generous practices are strongly associated with grater well-being of the generous givers.

What about a causal relationship? Which causes which? The arrow points in both directions. Greater well-being often facilitates generosity. And at the same time, generosity also enhances the well-being of the giver. 

America has been call "the most generous nation." But what is the truth of the matter? The authors report that the truth is that the results are mixed. Many Americans are quite generous in various ways and they are more likely to enjoy the benefits of generous practices. While on the other hand many other Americans live fairly ungenerous lives. They are less likely to voluntarily give money to valued organization and causes. They don't volunteer their time and labor to others. They don't extend themselves much in relationships with family, friends, and neighbors. And these less generous people are less likely to have the benefits of generous practices.

So, what do Smith &Davidson mean by "generosity"? For the purpose of their research they mean "the virtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly."  It is conceived as a learned character trait involving both attitudes and actions. It requires both a disposition to give liberally and active practice of giving liberally. You have to want to be generous and to act generous, to actually give to others in some way.

It isn't just giving anything from you abundance but giving those things that are beneficial to others. A generous heart will share what they have that would benefit another. It is important that we consider how our "gift" benefits the other. How often do we donate our no longer needed clothing without considering how it will benefit another? We do it more to get rid of stuff than to really consider the needs of others beyond our left-overs. 

There are many ways to be generous. We can give our time to work without pay [volunteering]; we can give money to the causes we believe in; we can express generosity to family, neighbors, friends; we can give blood, become an organ donor, loan possessions, include estate giving in our wills. Sometimes giving time to just listen when someone needs a sympathetic ear can be a very generous act. Random acts of kindness are generous practices.

"Giving we receive, grasping we lose." Learn more about the benefits of generosity in The Paradox of Generosity by Christian Smith & Hilary Davidson. And increase your own well-being while you give to benefit others.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Another Formula for Happiness


  • Do you know your purpose?
  • Is there a way to live your life that will create more happiness in the world, not only for you but for others as well?


  • Maybe that is the purpose for which we all exist. 
  • What will you do today, tomorrow, the next day, to create more happiness?
  • Share your ideas here!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Living in the Modern World


We've been exploring the ideas about an 18th century economist named Adam Smith through the perspective of Russ Roberts' book How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life, an unexpected guide to human nature and happiness. Even though Adam Smith was an economist he had philosophical thoughts about human happiness that weren't about money. And his ideas are just as appropriate today, if not more so, than they were in the 1700's. His philosophical thoughts are in his book The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Smith proposed that we are happy when we are loved and when we are "good", or lovable. And when we want to make the world a better place, we do that by simply being better people.
"If you want to make the world a better place, work on being trustworthy, and honor those who are trustworthy. Be a good friend and surround yourself with worthy friends. Don't gossip. Resist the joke that might hurt someone's feelings, even when it is clever. And try not to laugh when your friend tells you that clever joke at someone else's expense. Being good is not just good for you and those around you, but because it helps others to be good as well. Set a good example, and by your loneliness you will not only be loved, but you may influence the world." Russ Roberts, How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life.
Roberts reinforces my belief that every action we take affects those around us and through them ripples outward influencing other way beyond us. When we approve of someone's behavior, be it good or bad, we are encouraging other people to that behavior. So if we want the world to be better we need to encourage that which is good, that positively affects others. That is part of our personal power to create change at an organic level.

This seems terribly important today when there is so much harmful behavior in the spotlight, in the news, on social media. We can influence that in two ways - expressing disapproval and/or refusing to giving a lot of energy to enhancing it. Negative attention is still attention. And some people seek any attention they can get.

Yet it is hard to determine how much disapproving attention is enough and how much is feeding the "attention-getters". Isn't it more effective to invest our energy in influencing those with the power to make changes? What reward or punishment is effective in each case? Sometimes eliminating positive rewards, financial for instance, is more powerful than voicing disapproval alone. Boycotts can be powerful, especially when combined with demonstrations.

Obviously, group actions are more powerful than the actions of only one of us. But that certainly doesn't excuse individuals doing nothing. If you really want to make the world a better place, BE THE CHANGE.

When we identify a problem we need to determine if "the problem" is a symptom of a greater problem. We can waste a great deal of energy and resources to change the symptom that doesn't get dealt with. Take the War on Drugs, for instance. What is the root of drug use? Is it just the availability of drugs? No, the addict is attempting to escape something, trying to escape some kind of pain. It is similar to the problem of terrorism. Who becomes radicalized to become a terrorist? Is it the person who understands his personal power and has the resources to pursue a better life? Or is it the young person who sees no future that is better than what they are living in. They fall for the rhetoric of someone promising them greatness, comfort, freedom.


Dealing with the causes is a big and often overwhelming task. All too quickly we give up making those changes and try to overcome the persons we define as "the problem." It wouldn't be easy to change "the problem" into a challenge that together with others we could influence in a positive way. However, pushing someone to change doesn't work. Often it is better to leave some things alone rather than try to steer them. See? It isn't easy. And yet it is important.

Smith reminded us that politics isn't where life happen, even though it affects our lives in all kinds of ways, good and bad. But we have so much more to do outside that world of politics. Roberts advises:
"Do you want to make the world a better place? Talk to your kids. Go on a date with your spouse without checking your e-mail. Read more Adam Smith and Jane Austen and P.G. Wodehouse and less of the Daily Kos and the Drudge Report. Smile at someone you don't know or even like. Be nice to your parents, because you can never repay what they did for you. None of this necessarily shows up in some measure of gross domestic product. These actions don't help pay the bills. They aren't usually on our to-do list. so we don't get the satisfaction of checking them off. A week can go by and nothing will happen if we don't do them. But I think they are the stuff of the good life."
 What it boils down to is that all the little things we do affect others. Think of positive behaviors you have  done, ones you can do in the future. What if everyone behaved that way? Pay it forward. Make the world better.

Next post we'll look at happiness from another perspective. Come back to see.